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(U)topian by Dave Fin

Read Online (U)topian by Dave Fin Fantasy Book

Overview: What would you do if you woke up in a utopia? Would you accept it? Would it accept you? (U)topian!

Card Smith, a privileged everyman from 2019, unexpectedly finds himself in a strange time: 2122. War and crime are gone. Jobs are optional, everything is free, you can spend your time on whatever you want to do. Society is flourishing. Card is immediately excited, but also annoyed for reasons he can’t fully explain. His head hurts. He falls into old habits. He gets into trouble.

As he meets new people and awkwardly settles into his new life in utopia, he must figure out the mystery as to why he’s not adjusting well when everyone else is so happy. Is there something sinister lying beneath the surface? Or is the only problem inside his own head? Card must overcome his limitations and weaknesses in order to evolve to meet the future he unexpectedly arrives in.

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(U)topian by Dave Fin

Read Online (U)topian by Dave Fin Book Chapter One


Exit Through the Door

It was cold and Card Smith was hungry. Things were, in a word, unsatisfactory, as those were just a couple of the issues he had to face while stuck in the empty void. He couldn’t see, which he could only surmise meant that he was in a dark room. He couldn’t feel any encumbrance on his eyes, and yet they weren’t adjusting – it had to be really, very intentionally blacked-out. He felt… “hungover” wasn’t quite right, but similar to that on a cellular level. Intense jet lag, perhaps. He couldn’t think that well. Doing this internal (and external) assessment was not easy or pleasant.

But he was cold and hungry. And thirsty. And unmanageably distressed, sweating thoroughly, soaked through. His mealy, underkept body felt like the world was wrong somehow. The sheer blood-pumping panic of the previous 20 minutes after he had awoken to this strange abyss had already worn off, and he was starting to feel the terrifying weight of his situation.

He staggered about the very dark dwelling space. His legs weren’t working right, so it was more of a flimsy limp than a walk. Left… right, left… a staccato beat. Externally, he was able to make a few observations:

1)      The room was about 10 feet by 12 feet. It was not large. He might have over or undershot since he had no experience measuring rooms in the dark, but it felt like a solid estimate.

2)      There was only one item in the room – a bed, upon which he had awoken. No amenities. Nothing under the bed, not even a monster.

3)      There was a door with a lock. It was not a strong door, nor a strong lock.

4)      He had nothing on himself (no cell phone, no wallet, no keys), and he was only wearing boxers and a sheet-like top.

So, based on this, he surmised: This was not an especially dangerous situation. A nuisance, really. He was not being kept prisoner, he assumed (having a situation where he was kept against his will for an interminable amount of time like in Oldboy was one of his secret fears). The door was made of fragile wood and clearly could be broken, as he felt some give when he leaned on it. Well, it’d be possible if his legs and body didn’t feel like mushy bags of refuse. The lock didn’t feel especially strong. It was just a door lock – not a deadbolt and nothing too secure. Maybe he had been kidnapped by some terrible kidnappers?

So after all of that evaluation shuffling around in his brain, he thought to himself, “I’m probably in someone’s guest room.” That was the best explanation he had now, although the lack of other furniture was odd. A desk? A dresser? He just decided that was correct and was satisfied with it, which staved off his panic at least a little.

The hunger pangs started again in full force, and he made a snap choice: Action was needed! He rapped on the door a few times. He decided against violence or excessive force – there were too many unknowns for him to be breaking down doors and based on his guess, he wanted to be as cordial as possible. Nothing – no answer. So he knocked, a bit louder this time. And again. Horsed out a more audible “Hey, I’m in here!” His voice was suffering from the same dysfunction as the rest of his body – it sounded almost like a smoker’s rasp, faltering and half-broke.

And then there was nothing again. “Am I being ignored?”

Lacking anything else to do, he tried doing more self-assessment – he could remember his name (Card), age (31), and nationality (American… more or less) – so he had a snapshot of himself, his life. But more profound questions were more troubling. What was the last thing he could remember before being in this dark room? It wasn’t anything spectacular. He had gone to bed after a day at work – he had been working late at the investment firm that he had recently started at, trying to make a good impression with his new boss, and got home even later after stopping at the bar for a drink or three. “Wait, did I actually get home?” The date had been September 30th but that seemed more tentative. Was today actually October? He was strafing against the limits of what his brain would allow. He knew the year, of course. It was 2019. That seemed right. But to his body and senses, it “felt” like anything he recalled had happened a while ago. Like maybe he’d been hit in the head while sleeping, and instead of an ambulance taking him to a hospital, they’d taken him to an abandoned house to recover. He managed a brief self-satisfied chuckle in his head, his trademark sarcastic deadpan humour alive, even when he was mostly broken. Or maybe he had actually died, and this is what purgatory was. A dark room that was  to taunt people looking for a more final destination… upward or downward. It was a far less comforting thought, even though he didn’t really believe in such destinations.

He smushed his cheeks in, frustrated. Other thoughts? Maybe something had happened at the bar, and he was still unc–

“Welcome, weary traveller. Are you awake now?” A calm, male voice rang forth from beyond. It gave the distinct impression of radiating all over the room, which felt very odd.

Card answered back, “I am! Hi! Can you let me out?” It felt like the back of his throat was covered in a layer of gravel.

“I can. Sorry about the delay. Please take a step back.”

It wasn’t dramatic at all – Card took two big steps back, and his captor/rescuer on the other side of the door flipped the door lock and opened the door. The light from the outside hallway fixtures beamed in, stinging Card’s eyes more than he thought it should.

“This part must be uncomfortable. Please take your time and readjust. When you are ready, I have prepared a washroom for you to refresh yourself. Please feel free to shower and put on the new clothes that have been set out for you, if that suits you. When you are ready, let’s have a further discussion in the study.”

Card’s eyes were finally starting to adjust, and he was now able to see this man. He looked about 25-30 years old – younger than Card, but with porous, telling eyes that showed wisdom and pain. He had darker skin and thin, curly hair that was light at the top. Card couldn’t pick out a regionality other than some nebulous “Middle Eastern” designation. The man’s voice was playing tricks on him too. He seemed to be… affecting a voice. “Like I’ve been freed from captivity by a stage actor,” Card wise-cracked in his own head. But then Card realized that he was in his own head, he wasn’t speaking, and time was still marching on, despite his reticence. Amid the embarrassment and awkward silence, he quickly met the other set of eyes probing for a response. “Thank you very much… um, what’s your name?”

“My name is Ados Zaman. Thank you for asking, Card Smith. Let us speak soon,” he said while pointing down the hall to Card’s right.

His use of “let us” felt strange, but it went part and parcel with the tenor of his voice. Then, Card felt a quick chill: “He knows my full name.’ Ados let him be, though, and walked in the opposite direction.

Card carried himself to the bathroom at the end of the hall. It was small and very bright, clinical in a sense. “No-frills'' would be a good assessment as well: a faucet, sink and cabinet, a toilet, and a sizable mirror that miraculously had no water spots on it. A picture of a palm tree on a small island above the toilet – the sort of Ikea culture he was used to mocking but which felt comforting all of a sudden. That was it. Nothing was sitting out, aside from a toiletry bag and a face cloth. The toiletry bag had a toothbrush (made of wood or bamboo or something), toothpaste, clippers, hand/face cream and a mystery ointment. “Velus Cream,” Card read to himself… “Never heard of it.” It, too… everything was without packaging; it was all just laid out and he assumed it wasn’t old or used. He peeked behind the door: a large towel for the shower and a small towel or his face. A quick touch of the material felt nice – terry cloth, maybe? It felt silky and luxurious.

Finally, he came to the person staring back at him in the mirror. He didn’t expect to see his own face looking back at him, based on his self-assessment in the dark before. He felt damaged and displaced, ghoulish even. He was worried that he was being inhabited by something else that would look at him villainously through the mirror. But, when he focused his eyes and examined, he had worried for no reason. It was his face, for sure. A bit worn, maybe, but all of the distinct features he knew and recognized. Soft, unassuming eyes, thin nose, a messed-up frock of hair framing it all like a scarecrow. There were strong features mixed together haphazardly, but he liked the look of it nonetheless.

And then it clicked – he wasn’t wearing his glasses! But Card looked down the hall to where he had been quasi-imprisoned – he could see fine; nothing was blurry. Had someone put contacts into his eyes? He shuddered at the thought. Or perhaps Card’s messed-up brain was just doing too many things at once and nothing seemed to make sense.

Card decided to disrobe and shower. When he first stepped into the steamy flow of water, it was the first time he felt some semblance of normalcy. He loved the showerhead – it was like being under a warm steamy waterfall, but something was odd about it from his point of view. Maybe “no-frills” was too hasty. He could have stayed in the shower all day… day? Card realized that he had no idea what time of day it was. He threw his head past the shower curtain and looked about. He hadn’t seen a window yet. The light above him was so bright… it had tricked his senses into thinking he was being bathed in natural sunlight, and he’d disregarded the lack of windows. It was odd, for sure.

He exited the shower grumbling under his breath and changed into the new clothes. They were nothing special – a plain white T-shirt and black fabric pants. The latter was almost like Lululemon yoga pants but without branding or delineation of any kind. Maybe they were Chinese knockoffs? After putting on the outfit, Card followed the other hallway down past where he had slept and around to yet another hallway to the left. As he timbered along near the end of the latter hall, the omni-voice returned. “To your left, exit through the door.”

Card arrived in a bigger room that was something between a library, a study and a media room. There was a large viewing screen flanked by stacks of books on all sides. He thought he recognized the styling as Victorian, but something didn’t seem right about it. Culture, especially of times and places he didn’t belong to, had never been Card’s forte. There was a small table, at which Ados was looking over a single piece of paper – there was an ease to his movements, but a nervousness in how he reacted to Card – it seemed as if this would be a casual meeting, based on appearances. Card’s mind was racing too fast. He couldn’t finish his thoughts. And then the piece of paper went black and blank, and Card just ignored the technological impossibility of the situation.

“Would you like anything to eat or drink?” Ados posed with fortuitous timing.

“No, thank you. Thanks,” Card croaked out. He was very nervous. Beyond just this situation, Ados’s voice was putting him on edge. He decided that his rescuer could still poison him. He craved sustenance but wanted a bit more control over the situation first.

“Not a problem. Excuse my transgressions; this is the first time I have had the pleasure of doing this.” He punctuated the “this” with a hand flourish. Card noted that he had delicate fingers.

“I’m not sure what ‘this’ is, honestly. I feel very lost right now. Also, your voice is very… intimidating,” Card replied, with his previously withheld anxiety now leaking out. “It feels like you’re making or doing an impression.”

After quick knitting of eyebrows, Ados’s visage changed. “Oh, sorry,” Ados replied, like he had finally finished his performance and was now speaking directly to the audience after the show was done. “Again, I’m new at this. I am more used to speaking formally than I am casually. Is this better?”

Card was relieved, but only slightly. “Yeah, I suppose. So can you tell me what ‘this’ is? Just be as simple as you can; my head really hurts.”

Ados hummed to himself for a moment and then finally stopped bending and stretching the e-paper he had in his hands. “Okay, that’s fine. The role I have is known as ‘Gatekeeper.’ It’s a fancy title for nothing quite so grand. Being a Gatekeeper is to help people acclimatize to their new surroundings in today’s society. If you notice, you have not seen a window yet. That is by design. You have awoken in a strange place at a strange time. Many people, in that circumstance, are disoriented, distrustful and angry. Sometimes it boils over. Confusion atop of confusion leads to anger. My job is to lessen that feeling, at least for the time being.”

A strange place at a strange time. Not exactly the same, but perhaps he had awoken before the opening crawl of Star Wars. If Ados was to be believed. “What do you mean?” Card inquired. The words were leaving his mouth like canaries in a coal mine.

“What was the last thing you remember?” Ados answered questions with more questions.

“I was at a bar, drinking. Maybe I got home? I can’t remember that. But then I awoke here.”

Ados reddened with embarrassment, “Again, that’s my fault. I was supposed to be more alert to your awakening, but I don’t really like the idea of a camera in the room, and I was supposed to be around. Also, it seemed like your room was too cold; you were shivering when I saw you. I shall use this learning experience to better my further performances.”

Card shot him a glance, and Ados sheepishly grinned. And showed his apologetic eyes one more time. Card enjoyed the banter and had already determined that he liked Ados, as odd and robotic as he seemed. “Okay, so what does ‘drinking at a bar’ tell you?”

“I mean, that’s interesting but not helpful. When was that? What day? What month? Be as precise as possible. Considering it a service to, um, scientific record,” He was sitting back as far as he could on the chair, now looking straight up. The ceilings were ridiculously high in the room, possibly more than 20 feet up.

Card chuckled at the phrasing but continued. “I was thinking about this earlier when I was groping around in the dark, but I think it was September 30th… oh, um, 2019. It could have been a day before or after; it’s hard to work out. I don’t recall which day of the week it was specifically. Or the time I was drinking, although it seems like it was after 7 PM. Sorry I’m so unsure, I think I may have a concussion… Does that help?” Card squeezed his eyes shut to try to get rid of the buzzing. “Nothing feels as it should. It feels like yesterday was another lifetime ago, as far away as my high school graduation.”

Ados flitted with ideas in his mind but then riddled, “You seem to understand, if not with your brain but with the very fibres in your body, that September 30th, 2019 was not in any way 24 hours ago.”

“Did I get injured? What day is it today?” Card was getting annoyed with the runaround. Then his eyes grew as he realized the implications of Ados’s evasiveness: “What did you mean, what month or year?! Where am I?!”

“It is not the years that should concern you. It is the decades and centuries. Today’s date is July 12th, 2122.”

Two separate thought processes crossed Card’s brain as everything turned to white (crossed was an understatement – it was more like a screaming envelopment). The first was abject terror and panic as the waves of confusion washed over him. Maybe it was a trick. He could still be unconscious! A dream! But then, it was real, and everyone he had ever known was dead. Madness. Rage. Thoughts of killing the messenger. Thoughts of overwhelming death.

The second, more charming thought was that Ados’s speech was missing a nice stinger line at the end, like John Hammond saying, “Welcome to Jurassic Park,” with Spielberg and Williams at the peak of their powers. “Welcome to… the Future!” He liked this particular lunatic thread a lot more than his panicked reality and yet, all the same, passed out.

* * *

When Card eventually gasped for air on the ground, Ados had brewed some tea and sliced some apples. There were also some granola snacks, spherical and waxy. All of his anxiety and dramatic thoughts had been replaced by the weird noise in the back of his brain continuing unabated. His occipital bone felt like it was vibrating. Ados was surprised by this reaction but had been trained for it. “Once again, apologies. That revelation cannot be neutered. Shall we continue?” he asked while handing over the cup and saucer.

Card returned to his seat and thought of all of the information he should ask for. Why was he here? What was going on? How did this happen? Who should he blame? All of these questions were even more magnified now. Suddenly, the urge to speak something, -anything- overwhelmed his mind. “2122? How come your clothes are so plain and not, like, cool techno shit?”

Ados tittered to himself. “Good first question. I guess it is sort of unflattering.” He seemed very self-conscious. “I can sort of understand what you mean, based on my limited knowledge of the early 21st-century. Research cannot replace being there. And my job has many facets. I help acclimatize people coming from isolated capitalist regimes, people with horrible scarring memories they’ve chosen to erase, as well as people from the past that are unfrozen – if it’s only by a few years or even a couple decades, the job is very easy. If it’s before a certain point…” He trailed off, which was unhelpful to the information probing. “By the way, you were frozen through a cryogenic process. Did you know that?”

Card did not, in fact, know that. How could he have gone to bed one night and before waking up, get put into stasis? “You’ve gotta be joking. Why would anyone do that to me…”

“No, it’s quite correct. You were frozen, and for whatever reason – above my paygrade, to turn an out-of-date phrase – you have been rehabilitated now. Technology allows for it. And through medicine and acupuncture, you were brought back from your emaciated state. We also destroyed the cancerous cells in your body and administered some perfunctory eye surgery on you.”

The bathroom vision mystery was solved. Small potatoes, though. “I… I had cancer?!”

“… You didn’t know? It was quite prevalent through your main midsection organs – I’m not sure you would have survived, given the primitive technology back then. I had assumed that was why you were frozen…” Ados’s bulging stare pierced Card more than usual. There was a symbiosis to the probing that was going on. They were learning from each other and Ados didn’t seem to be enjoying the experience all that much.

The walls started to feel like they were leaning towards Card, about to smother him. “This is all news… new to me… I am… wow, okay, this is not okay, I am feeling a bit...” Card started to feel what he thought he should have felt earlier when he cracked jokes. “I need a moment.” He ducked his head between his legs as he sat on the elegant chair across from Ados. Card’s face was no longer visible to the world.

Ados demurred and went back to the piece of e-paper. Not reading it or changing it but just killing time… “It’s not an issue, take your time.” A few minutes went by quietly, quickly, doggedly. “This is my first 21st-century acclimatization project but really, I just started this line of work in general a few months ago. I am inquisitive as to your thoughts on the 21st-century… when you are ready, of course. I do not mean to dredge up feelings just for my satisfaction.”

Card was still breathing hard, but he brought his head back up. “Are there more like me? From the early 21st-century?”

Ados thought about it, this time with the same gravity that Card felt. “There are. I’ve heard the number of people who were cryogenically held in stasis is somewhere between one hundred thousand to half a million. There’s a process to it… some people ask to be thawed at a certain time. Some people ask when “things are good.” Some have no record at all and they just do it as they can. It’s all very unscientific. I don’t know your circumstances, honestly. You were just awoken now and placed with me. An old friend of mine thought it would be a good initiation. Also, and I have to be careful with this, I was told that they thought a fresh, more organic approach would be useful – the tried and true approach seems to have run its course in terms of… er, effectiveness.” The soft-spoken man remembered something because something between a scowl and a grin crept across his face before he shut it down. “My friend, he does many things unconventionally but I believe in his ideals.”

Card started to feel more questions bubbling to the surface, needing to gasp for air. “Where am I? I was in Rochester, New York before. Am I still in America?”

Ados stopped again, shifting in his equally impressive-looking chair. “You are where you were, geographically speaking. You are still in the city of Rochester. And even New York state is still, more or less, the same. The country you lived in… well, that’s a bit more complicated and requires a political science degree to properly answer.”

Card looked at Ados and started to panic. “What happened? Did you conquer us?” It was absurd and his face went immediately flush having barked it out like that.

Ados, for better or worse, was not offended because he just didn’t understand the dynamics at play. “You and I, we are the same. I did not conquer you. And the United States was not invaded. It was… subsumed by the relentless flow of time, as all empires are. It now exists as a construct, a way to describe an area when other shorthands fail.”

Card was tired of the riddles and half-truths. But this was an impenetrable topic, he decided. There were too many gaps, and the person across from him seemed like an unreliable if charming historical narrator. “Okay, I’m in Rochester. So what do I do now?”

“You can go exploring if you so wish. You have a place to stay here. I will set up your room properly if you give me a bit of time. You don’t have to, of course; you can stay at a hotel or at the C–”

“I don’t have my wallet,” Card explained while interrupting, panicky and stricken. “I don’t have anything.” He patted over his pants and shirt faster and faster.

Ados pressed on his electronic paper, skimmed it and went over to one of the library stacks at the wall. There were a few items there, higher than he could see clearly. Card’s nerves were dulled after he tried to peek up to see what was up there. “Here is an identification piece. It was made for you. It includes basic health information and the vehicle licensing that you had completed back in your time. I’ve included a phone and earpiece for you as well and a charging sphere for both. Your phone includes a digital copy of that ID as well, but please keep the physical copy with you at all times if that’s okay, at least until you’re acclimatized. You may not be so accustomed to everything being digital.”

Card found some dark humour in the situation. “Like, is ‘The Man’ watching?” Card pointed to the sky with his thumb. He was halfway between joking and gauging for a legitimate response.

“The… Man?” Ados mulled over this. Card couldn’t tell if he misunderstood the reference or just wanted to play along. “No one is watching from above. There are strict laws about surveillance drone usage in cities. Otherwise, there are no men living in the sky. Yet, anyway.”

Card pushed past that juicy morsel and kept going. “What about cash… or a bank card? How can I pay for the hotel? Or a taxi? Where’s my car?”

Ados was more aware this time. “Your car is long gone. As to the other parts: You do not need money. I am happy to tell you, we are in a post-capital system, at least, as of 2107 in our region of the world. There is no transfer of money, real or virtual, for anything - you can just get what you want, in most cases. You will understand it a bit better when you go explore… but do use your best judgment and keep an open mind. Things are… different to how they were in your time.” His lips pursed together as he took a pause for “different.”

Card and Ados went over some finer details afterward – using the phone and earpiece, including map and personal ID software. The wireless charging sphere had a 5m range so there was no more anxiety about charging your devices in most places. It was advanced, but not unreasonably more advanced than the technology of the late 2010s. The future was not so interesting so far, in Card’s estimation. “No mention of jet packs so far…” he whined to himself. There was still so much not known; Card thought it was odd that he was just being let go to do things. It seemed fishy. Ados as a guidepost or whatever… that was even more suspicious; his persona at the beginning had seemed stringent and robotic, and then he switched to become a cautious, curious person. Card half-wanted to be his friend, half-wanted to use him to figure out more about the situation. Plus, sky people aside, he knew he was being spied on, regardless of Ados’s tip-toe explanations. Companies and governments got lambasted for illegal tracking as soon as they could. He could only imagine how bad they must have become 100 years later. “Nanny State CCTV Big Brother bullshit. Human nature never changes.”

And yet, the numbness to his situation’s dire nature was settling in. He could do what he wanted for now. He had no job, no need for money and no idea what was going on. It was like being transported to a different universe or placed into a dream world where he could do whatever he wanted. Maybe he was still dreaming. Maybe he’d never left his bed. Perhaps he was still in purgatory, a thought he couldn’t yet shake.

Ados jumped into Card’s thoughts, as he set down the electronic paper. “Before we finish, If I could explain one more thing – about the Community House.” Card looked at him again with a bit of a sideways glance, but this time, there was no light in Ados’s eyes reflecting his thoughts. “Um, The Community House is a structural hub in each place or each district in each place. There is generally one Community House for every 100,000 people, although that is not a hard or fast rule. To put it in a way you could understand, they are a mix of a government building, college, a hostel, a community center and a church, though completely secular.”

“Oh, here we go. Here comes the Blue Kool-Aid,” Card thought to himself.

“If you can manage it, I would suggest you go there to further your acclimation to this situation. It is… important to the time we live in. Like a central hub for people to begin their various journeys in life. I can join you, if you would like some company there. I’ve been going there often in recent days.” Ados continued as if this were an audio recording he was programmed to finish. He seemed a touch more morose at the last part. “The location is programmed into your phone, right into the map interface, in fact…” He tapped on Card’s phone for a moment and brought up a webpage or an app or something. It talked about the West Rochester Branch. “You will find my friend there, his name is…”

Ados was still talking but Card had stopped listening, his mind felt like it was being shaken like a paint can. Humans who didn’t spend money but just went to super Sunday school all the time… it was a nightmare. Card had already made up his mind about the joke civilization, somehow taking over America, 21st-century warts and all. But this was more visceral than disappointment. He felt a white hot rage that he had never felt before, which he cultivated as Ados finished his grand introduction. “These guys have no idea what they’re doing. It’s just bullshit. Complete fucking bullshit. What did I sleep through?! What did I wake up to?!”

Card found it helpful to concentrate on one singular point, in order to focus the hatred and not let it take him over. So he planted his eyes on a small symbol in the phone application that was above the Community House info. It was a rough octagonal shape, but with different hands making up the eight sides, fingers grasping in a disjointed circle-hand shake. The arms and hands that were separated from their respective bodies seemed to denote a message of community-based positivity - “You help me and I’ll help you.” To Card, the detachment was a more sinister thought: divorce and alienation from the human body, spirit and the qualities that made them special.

Card summoned all of his faculties to burn suspicion, antipathy and opposition toward this symbol. He affected a fake smile, shook Ados’ hand and left to explore his new surroundings.

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